Division to push for more students in AP

Published 10:50 pm Friday, January 17, 2020

Suffolk school officials want to increase the number of students who take Advanced Placement classes at the city’s three high schools.

Suffolk Public Schools Superintendent Dr. John B. Gordon, along with Assistant Superintendent of Teaching and Learning Dr. LaToya Harrison, said they are looking into ways they can achieve that boost.

During a discussion on new high school class offerings at the Jan. 9 School Board meeting, including AP World History, board member David Mitnick asked about prerequisites for AP classes. Students currently have to get a ‘B’ in any class that is a prerequisite for a particular AP class to get into that class.

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Mitnick said the College Board does not require that; rather, it is a division requirement.

“In my experience of working with kids, there are students who take AP courses without having that ‘B’ average in previous coursework, who blossom at the college-level work and do exceptionally well,” Mitnick said.

Harrison said it is something the division will strongly consider going forward in creating more access to AP classes.

“The prerequisite is there because of the rigor of the courses,” Harrison said. “We want students to be set up for success in those courses, knowing the demands in many of those courses. However, I do think it’s something that warrants consideration for the future.”

Gordon believes that the division’s prerequisites for AP classes have served as a barrier for some students.

“We do want to set our kids up for success,” Gordon said. “This is a conversation … that we are starting, and it is something that we really understand that, it has to also be a philosophy shift for our teachers. That’s going to be really important. And I’ll be honest, it would also improve and increase the diversity of our AP courses as well.”

Board member Sherri Story said that even if students don’t do well in the AP classes, it not only increases the diversity in them, it helps them in other classes.

“I really hope that we look toward following the College Board and having more of an open enrollment to increase diversity and to bring back some of those AP classes we don’t have,” Story said. “I’m on board with that.”

Vice Chairwoman Dr. Judith Brooks-Buck asked if the School Board could amend the policy to allow for open enrollment.

Advanced Instruction Specialist Dr. Maria Lawson-Davenport, who heads up the committee that reviews the division’s classes and oversees its AP programs, said the division does have an open-access policy with AP classes. Still, at times, she said, “teachers are the barrier because, if they know a student had a ‘C’ or something lower in another class, they don’t want that student in their class because they feel they’ll struggle. So that is something we are working on with teachers.”

She said 10th-grade students who do well on PSATs will get letters suggesting possible AP classes to take in 11th and 12th grade.

“We’re doing a lot of things to increase that number and pushing students into those courses based on interest,” Lawson-Davenport said.

According to data from the school division, there were 424 high school students in AP classes during the 2017-2018 school year (119 at King’s Fork, 100 at Lakeland and 206 at Nansemond River). In the 2018-2019 school year, 514 students took AP classes (123 at King’s Fork, 125 at Lakeland and 266 at Nansemond River).

Of the 514 students last year, 292 took an AP exam — 77 at King’s Fork, 58 at Lakeland and 157 at Nansemond River. Among those taking the AP exam, 61 percent of them earned a 3 or higher on a scale of 1 to 5, with 3 the minimum score needed to receive college credit.

In other school divisions, Gordon noted, the prerequisite for AP classes had been an ‘A’ and said he liked that in Suffolk Public Schools, with a ‘B’ as a prerequisite, more students have been able to take AP classes.

“We are taking a serious look at eliminating some of our prerequisites for our AP courses and other college preparatory courses that we can get college credit,” Gordon said, “just to give all of our students the opportunity to take some of these courses before they leave SPS.”